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Innovation & Startups

Interbots' adorable Popchilla brings smiles to autistic children

When Interbots CEO Seema Patel started receiving phone calls from autism researchers, she realized just how powerful the potential was for robotic toys. 
The East Liberty startup, born out of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center, immediately shifted from work on the interactive robot Quasi and began designing interactive robots for children with autism spectrum disorder.
Research shows that children with autism have an easier time interacting with robots and animals than people, explains Patel. Parents were telling us that their children, who never spoke with strangers, were talking to our robot.  Robots aren't as intimidating.
"That's when it hit home for us that we had to make it happen somehow," she says.
Interbots created Popchilla--a bluish chinchilla-like critter--as a robotic tool for autistic children and their therapists. The company is currently hoping to raise at least $1 million to manufacturer 5000 Popchilla toy robots. 
In addition, Interbots is developing iPad app games. The most recent app, Popchilla's World, teaches social skills and routines through fun and play.
In honor of National Autism Awareness Month, the East Liberty startup has launched a Kickstarter campaign with the hope of raising $25,000 this month to create more apps.  
The first game, "Touch and Say," released last July, continues to do well, says Patel.  The game has been downloaded more than 45,000 times and has a recurring user rate of 95%, which is high.
"There is a community of people dedicated to using the apps with children and they're using them often," she says. 
For now, the company will remain at five employees with one intern.
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Seema Patel, Interbots
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